Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In Defense of Single Parents

Katrina Fernandez' recent post at The Crescat initially made me kind of frustrated and a little annoyed. Fernandez seems to resent the fact that the “gifted gays” got so much Synodal attention while single parents got only a one line mention. My first reaction was: Why do we feel the need to fight over the crumbs from the family table? The folks who kindof, sortof got maybe a little recognized (tentatively...) at the Extraordinary Synod are mostly people who have been routinely sidelined and marginalized within our community. Agreed, single parents are also in that boat. But why can't you say “Hey, we need recognition too” without implying that other people don't need recognition as much, or don't deserve the modicum of acknowledgement that they've received?
Then I read the com-box.
Then I thought some more.

Then I decided that I don't want to fight Katrina for the crumbs any more than I want her to fight me.
One of the things that she pointed out that struck me on second reading is that single moms are often too busy, too frazzled, too worn out to be able to advocate for themselves. Whereas it has to be admitted that the gay Catholic world has produced a number of advocates who do this more or less full-time. I'm one of them. And I absolutely acknowledge that I would not be one of them if I were trying to raise my children without a husband. I thought about my own disappointment when the welcoming words of the Synod's interim report were watered down to a more or less empty restating of the Same Old Thing by the time that the final document was produced. I also thought about the other things that I wish the Synod had discussed. I would have liked to see some talk about what families are supposed to do when NFP doesn't work. I would have liked to see a real discussion of how the Church can actually help to support the large families that She tells us to have. I'm not just a gay Catholic. I'm also a Catholic with six children. I'm also the mother of an autistic child. I'm also...
So I understand where Katrina is coming from. It's really important for people to have their situations, their trials, and their heroism recognized by the Church. This is our Mother. A one line brush-off really can feel like...well, a brush off. And it's understandable if the people who feel neglected also feel just a little jealous of the people who were slightly less neglected. Personally, I have to admit that I cringe and that I'm tempted to start shooting venom out of my nose everytime that someone in a com-box says “Why are we focusing on all of these special interest groups? Wouldn't it be great if the Church focused on the family for once.” Yeah. Because the Church never focuses on the family. Never. It's like, practically unheard of. Just like the State never looks after the interests of White Men.

I understood more, though, when I started to read the comments. There were several assumptions that kept coming through loud and clear, and that really showcased why single parents feel marginalized within the Church.

First assumption: Single parents are single because they made bad decisions.
Second assumption: It's not the Church's responsibility to look after single parents; that's the responsibility of all those dead-beat fathers. The Church should be calling men to repent.

Comments like this don't acknowledge the fact that some single parents are single because their spouses are dead. Others are functionally single because their spouses have been deployed, or because they've been indefinitely separated due to poverty. Some parents are single because they've been abandoned by their spouses. Others have been forced to leave abusive marriages, sometimes for the safety of their children. Some parents are single because they were raped. Some are single because they got pregnant in college and made the very, very good choice to give their children life. It's all too common for people to see the term “single mother” and leap to a whole series of judgements that are unfounded, and unjust.
Secondly, it is the Church's responsibility to look after members of its flock. Seriously, who is more likely to show up to Mass? A woman struggling to raise a child that she chose to keep, even though it was born out of wedlock and her partner told her to get an abortion, or the man who got her pregnant? The father struggling to raise three children after his wife decided to abandon her family to “find herself,” or the wife who has abdicated responsibility? Let's be real. The people who have freely chosen not to take responsibility for their own families are not likely to show up in the pews until they have already decided to repent. Those who are striving to be good, caring parents in the face of neglect or abandonment are much more likely to be present at Mass. These are our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to be there for them, to be their advocates when they are too exhausted to advocate for themselves, and to fulfil the promise we make at every baptism: to help the parents in the task of raising up children to the Lord.


  1. The most common thing I hear about single parent families is the idea that they are inherently defective because children need to have both a mother and a father to grow up into psychologically healthy adults. There is an element of truth in this, but the case gets way overstated. What children need is adults who love them and good examples of mature masculinity and femininity. A nuclear family with two loving parents is a great way to do that, but there are so many circumstances in life where that just doesn't happen. Sometimes this is because people have made bad choices and sometimes not. Life happens and it does not conform to a plaster ideal of perfection. Actually, it's where it doesn't conform to our idea of perfection that the spontaneous, creative and beautiful happens.

    I come from a nuclear family and, like many people from a nuclear family, have a pretty lousy relationship with my parents. You hear this thing all the time that if you don't have a good relationship with your father than you won't be able to relate to God the Father. Or if you have a problem with your mother, you'll have a problem with Mary and the Church. This seems to be true for some people, but my experience is the opposite. What is lacking in my family lead me to seek family elsewhere. I found it, in the Church, in God, in friends and community.

    I guess my point is, no matter what kind of family you come from, you will probably not make it through childhood without deep emotional wounds that will cripple you for life. Then you realize that it is right at that point of woundedness that God meets you and loves you and the wound becomes a source of life and joy. That is the "Good News about the family".

  2. God doesn't hate the sinner - sHe passionately loves us, God hates the sin. There shall come a time when the whole world will see their sins and how they have offended God. Repentance follows. What is this called? the Warning. God bless you.


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